Premier League Career: 1992-2004
First Premier League Match: Arsenal 2-1 Sheffield Wednesday (28 August 1992)
Final Premier League Match: Arsenal 2-1 Leicester City (15 May 2004)
Paul Durkin was one of the most respected referees in the Premier League and also one of the best. He spent 12 seasons in the middle, beginning and finishing his Premier League career ironically at the same ground, Highbury.
Hailing from the Isle of Portland in Dorset, Durkin refereed 242 games across 12 campaigns, showing 595 yellow cards and dishing out 29 red cards during his career.
1997-1998 was Durkin’s best season. His consistent performances ultimately saw him chosen for the ultimate pinnacle in football, the World Cup. Early in the season, he took charge of a tempestuous match between Bolton Wanderers and Manchester United. In the 34th minute, Bolton’s Nathan Blake and Gary Pallister of United started to trade punches with each other. What happened next was something more akin to be seen at a rugby match. A 21-man brawl followed with only Bolton goalkeeper Keith Branagan staying out of the melee. Durkin kept his composure and sent off Blake and Pallister for starting the incident in the first place.
A month later, Durkin was at the centre of another flashpoint when he was physically pushed by French midfielder Emmanuel Petit of Arsenal during a goalless draw with Aston Villa. Again, he didn’t produce any dramatics and simply flashed the red card at Petit, who was subsequently banned for three matches.
Often called up to the big matches, Durkin had the honour of taking charge of the 1998 FA Cup final between Arsenal and Newcastle United. He also refereed the 2003 League Cup final involving Liverpool FC and Manchester United. In 2004, he did a rare thing for referees and faced the television cameras after a 0-0 stalemate at Old Trafford when Manchester United played Newcastle United.
Both teams had debatable moments in the match and Durkin admitted he’d been wrong not to award Newcastle a penalty when Alan Shearer was tripped by Tim Howard.
He told Sky Sports: “If I had seen the incident, clearly I would have given it. I was expecting the ball to be playing up field, so I was a long way off when it happened and I wasn’t certain there had been any contact. It’s disappointing because you like to get the big decisions right but you only get a split-second. I looked at it again on TV and Newcastle can count themselves unfortunate.”
Durkin’s final match was the historic game at Highbury when Arsenal completed an unbeaten season in 2003-2004 with victory over Leicester City. After appearing on the short-lived ITV gameshow Simply the Best as a referee, Durkin now works as a referee assessor for the FA.
Honest, straight-talking and widely respected within many quarters of the game, Paul Durkin is still considered as one of the best referees across the first quarter of a century in the Premier League.